Clayton Kershaw prefers not to think about it.
Nonetheless, next month could be Kershaw’s final outing for the Dodgers, as the 35-year-old left-hander is set to retire next offseason or go on a free transfer if he chooses.
As a result, Saturday night could be his final regular-season start at Dodger Stadium, if not his final appearance at Chavez Ravine Mound – although a home playoff start next month is looking increasingly likely.
In any case, don’t expect Kershaw to consider that possibility or for the Dodgers to pull off a grand sendoff.
“It’s all about winning this year,” Kershaw said this week. “All the personal things are somehow left out.”
But as he gazed out at the stadium he’s called home for the past decade and a half, even the famously adamant veteran couldn’t block out every thought of his uncertain future.
“You always think about the last homestand, the last playoffs and all that,” he admitted. “But I came to terms with it a long time ago.”
In fact, Kershaw has been through this before.
Before his first foray into free agency in 2021, his season ended abruptly during the final homestand when he suffered an elbow injury that sidelined him for the playoffs.
That day he trudged down the mound with a ball in his hand. He received a rousing ovation from fans he had thrilled for years. And as he descended the steps to the dugout, it seemed as if his time with the Dodgers might be coming to an end.
It turns out that some of Kershaw’s best days in LA were still ahead of us.
Last year, he not only re-signed a one-year deal with the club – Kershaw plans to sign only one-year deals for the rest of his career, knowing retirement looms as an annual possibility – but also took his place again as the cornerstone for the Pitching staff.
He started last season’s All-Star Game – a career debut – at Dodger Stadium. He eclipsed his career strikeout record. And if it weren’t for a few back injuries, he might have been in the conversation for a fourth Cy Young Award after going 12-3 with a 2.28 ERA.
This season followed a similar script. Kershaw re-signed in the winter. With a record of 12-4 and an ERA of 2.52, he remains one of the Dodgers’ most productive pitchers and was again selected to the All-Star selection. He reached another milestone, picking up his 200th win on an April evening as Chavez Ravine showered him with even more recognition.
“This place is special,” Kershaw said that evening. “Any time you can do something at home is pretty cool.”
But as was regularly the case in the second half of his Hall of Fame career, Kershaw’s health derailed his season.
After missing all of July with a shoulder injury, Kershaw hasn’t looked the same since returning in early August.
His fastball struggles to reach 90 mph. His command was unusually off. Even his typically surefire mechanics failed, something that hadn’t happened in previous battles with injuries.
“Since I’ve been here, he’s been one of the most consistent pitchers we’ve ever had in terms of production,” said Mark Prior, the team’s fourth-year pitching coach. “Even with all the back problems he’s had over the last few years, he’s always maintained that.”
This time, however, Prior discovered that Kershaw’s timing and sequencing were “messed up,” leading not only to a drop in speed but also to inconsistent commands.
“If you get injured on anyone or your arm speed changes a little bit, it’s just a matter of finding the right balance and order,” Prior added. “So you make adjustments to accommodate what you can do.”
Kershaw — who has still managed a 2.42 ERA in six starts since returning from the injured list — predictably offered little insight into the process.
“I just want to get people out,” he said.
On the subject of his future, the 16-year veteran and proud father of four was more thoughtful.
While he admitted that he occasionally thinks about the decision that awaits him this offseason – the Dallas native could also draw interest from his hometown Texas Rangers – he noted that his feelings can “constantly change” and that “I “I’ve really thought about it.”
He said he tries to shy away from conversations about his future – and by extension his decorated Dodgers legacy – because “I don’t want the attention and all that. I think that’s the best way to go.”
Long ago, he explained, he accepted the reality that he would one day leave the Dodgers and, eventually, his pitching career behind him.
“If it’s been three years since the last time, then so be it,” he said. “It was still a great run.”
He repeatedly reiterated that his main focus now was on him: “You just want to be there this year and win the World Series.” It’s either going to be disappointing or it’s going to be great. Then we head into the offseason.”
Despite the recent decline in his talents, Kershaw’s role in October appears to be as important as ever.
Not only is he expected to be in the playoff rotation – albeit perhaps with a limited workload – but he could also be in the starting lineup for Game 1, although manager Dave Roberts said pitching plans are still in place be worked out.
While the Dodgers hope Kershaw’s pace picks up again, they are all the more encouraged by the progress with his command, which appeared to improve toward the end of a scoreless four-inning game in Seattle last week.
And with another October on the horizon, everything points to a possible ride into the sunset, with Kershaw playing a prominent role in what could be his final playoff push with the only team he’s ever known.
“His recent work from this year shows how much we trust and value him,” said Roberts. “For me it’s just a question of his physical condition. And if he’s physically well, we’ll send him out.”